Surviving your Honours Thesis
Are you writing a thesis and finding it hard to get motivated? So was I until UTS law student and honours thesis survivor Nicholas Mirzai shared his experiences and words of wisdom with Survive Law. Read on!
I wrote my first draft within 6 weeks and spent the rest of the time changing small things and making sure it said what I wanted it to say. I had a marvelous supervisor and was very happy with my mark.
The thing with the thesis that should scare you into starting is that otherwise you won’t have the time or patience to read it from start to finish with a fresh set of eyes and pick up mistakes. There will always be mistakes in a giant piece of work but the aim should always be to write something you wouldn’t mind your boss reading, in fact you’d want to impress him with it. My paper is starting to circulate at my work (reception has been excellent) and I’ve sent a copy in for publication.
The hardest part of all is refining a topic that will keep you interested but has enough substance to become the body of your work. Wanting to talk about something in the area of criminal law is rarely a good enough place to start. You need to get out there and see what others have written. Ideally, the structure of any good paper should follow a few basic principles which can initiate your research.
Firstly, you want to make sure your general audience (assume your audience is the average law student) is across the area of law you are covering for the purpose of your paper. Spend some time understanding the area it is you are writing in and the general legal protocol that exists. This will vary depending on the legal area (I wrote about corporate insolvency) but the general principles are the same – you want to bring the reader up to speed on the topic.
Secondly, you want to work out where the law is deficient. There is no point writing a paper which restates the legal position unless there has been some change which is important for people OR you are proposing a change based on your research. I think both are satisfying tasks and this is where your scope needs to narrow and hone in on the issues that are important to you.
Neither of these stages is easy. You will have books, journal articles, newspaper clipping – you name it, someone else has written about it. So be thorough in your preliminary research, its a mechanical process which needs to be done and the longer it is delayed, the less time you have to review your paper and turn what would be a pass into a distinction grade or better.
Once started, remember your reasons for wanting to write the paper and your creativity in tweaking the research should follow. Don’t be afraid to criticise what you read but always try to have a foundational position and structure which you can point to. It is a formal piece of writing and there is no point criticising an idea in chapter 1 if you have not yet explained it. Criticism and a view for reform should come at the later stages, the initial parts are all about expanding your audience and making sure you and your reader are on the same page.
Each person works differently. Don’t bother trying to meet the due dates people set for themselves and try not to look around you. Talking about your project with other people helps stimulate ideas but it should not be used as a platform for comparison. At the end of the day each person will act within their comfort zone, for me (with the intention of getting the paper published) my zone was always conservative so I took a lot of time at the earlier stages getting the mechanics done. You will realise that the mountains of existing research really are not so intimidating if you specify your topic enough. Your paper does have the potential to be a leading work due to the fact that you are writing it in 2010 and people like typically prefer more contemporary research.
You need time away from your work, be it a day or 2 weeks. Somewhere along the line you need to put it down and walk away because the words will no longer make sense. You will know this because you will either be well over the word limit or the sentences just don’t sound good anymore. Take a break, go to the beach, do what you need to do to clear your head. The refining process is critical and most people miss it.
Writing 12,000 words is not a difficult task if the words are rubbish. Making them meaningful and dividing your paper up into a coherent, structured account is difficult. I took about a week and a half off and spent the time catching up on other assignments (not the most ideal relaxation period) and when I came back I reformed my paper almost entirely. The research was there and accurate, I just needed to make sure what I wanted to say was in fact coming through- you do not get there with a first draft.
I hope this helps. More often than not people glorify the process and do not lay it all out on the table for you. That said, a thesis is a fantastic opportunity to develop a sound piece of work and if done successfully operates as a platform for further academic pieces.
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